- Literary, But Not Too Literary; Joyous, But Not Jazzy: Triad Magazine, Antipodean Modernity and the Middlebrow
My title comes from an editorial in the Sydney monthly, the Triad, from July 1924. It represents one in a series of attempts by the magazine’s editors to redefine their magazine in a way that was adequate to the changed cultural circumstances in which they found themselves in the mid-1920s—surrounded on all sides by the new cultures of modernity, confronting the rapid turnover of isms that had yet to find enduring institutional form as modernism, and attempting to find a place in a cultural field that appeared newly segmented into high, low, and middlebrow strata, at exactly the moment the term “middlebrow” gained wide currency in the English-speaking world. The editors sought an editorial platform, an audience, and a set of contents that were, in one of the phrases of the era, “neither highbrow nor lowbrow.” The fact that this task proved near-impossible for the magazine in any permanent form has a good deal to tell us about the print culture of this key transitional moment and the state of what I will call “antipodean modernity.”
Studies of modernism and modernity in Australia have been transformed over the last decade in ways that manifest the “spatial” and “vertical” expansion of the new modernist studies as defined by Douglas Mao and Rebecca Walkowitz.1 This transformation, however, has been driven as much by internal pressures on the cultural modeling of nation and modernity as by [End Page 245] external influence. The “transnational turn” has been especially influential in reconfiguring Australian cultures and hence in reconfiguring Australia’s relation to international modernity across a wide range of fields: popular theater and live entertainment, cinema, radio and jazz, photography, craft and fine arts, architecture and design, advertising, fashion and consumption.2 The ground has shifted from high modernism alone to the more complex and entangled spheres of technological, media, and “vernacular” modernisms, reframing modernism as “a powerful domain within a particular modernity,” here in its specific Australian time and place.3
Australian literature has also been subject to the transnational turn, but, with only a small number of exceptions, studies of print culture and especially the critical role of periodicals in relation to modernity have lagged some distance behind.4 The focus has been on a small number of publications including the weekly Bulletin—especially in its first two decades from 1880, when it managed to combine elements of the new journalism with a serious commitment to the nation, the public, and cultural life—and on the little magazines, particularly the spectacularly antimodernist Vision (1923–24) or the heroically modernist Angry Penguins (1940–46). Studies of Australian modernity have also given increased attention to Home (1920–42), a magazine dedicated to the dissemination of modern taste in fashion, design, and the decorative arts.5 But a great deal of the archive remains unexplored. The Triad itself is largely forgotten, despite having been the only long-term periodical in Australia across the first three decades of the twentieth century dedicated primarily to literature, theater, and the other arts.6
Earlier approaches to modernism in Australia took their bearings from the “Greenwich Meridian” of European and Anglo-American high modernism, or from a nationalist perspective tracing the evolution of a distinctive Australian culture that would be at once local, modern, and mature.7 Indeed, the two perspectives were often complementary, giving rise to a long history of pronouncements on the nation’s incipient modernity: the signs of modernity were gathering but had not yet, not quite, been consolidated; or alternatively, the latest successful artist or artifact was proof that the nation had finally made it. In effect, both perspectives inscribe the model of center and margin, metropolis and province, so that the history of modernism in Australia unavoidably became a story of lack and lag. The fact that Australia was a long way away, itself a very partial geography, routinely blurred into the idea that it was a long way behind. Geographical distance was translated into cultural belatedness.
By contrast, the newer studies of modernity discover Australia’s contemporaneity...